Kids-for-cash judges hit with 6 million penalty

Two ex-jurists in Pennsylvania who took bribes to send children to for-profit prisons have been ordered to pay their victims

Two former US judges have been ordered to pay $206 million in civil court damages for taking kickbacks from a builder of for-profit jails to send hundreds of children to his lockups.

The Pennsylvania ex-jurists, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, must pay more than $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to nearly 300 of their victims, according to a ruling on Wednesday by a US District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The two men were previously convicted on criminal charges in connection with their scheme, though Conahan was released to home-confinement last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the so-called “kids-for-cash” scandal, Ciavarella and Conahan shut down a county-operated juvenile detention center and took $2.8 million in bribes from the developer of two for-profit jails, PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care. According to testimony in the civil lawsuit, the judges sent children as young as 8 to the jails, in many cases for such petty offenses as jaywalking or smoking on school grounds.

Ciavarella often ordered children to be immediately shackled and taken away without giving them an opportunity to speak in their defense or say goodbye to their families, the Associated Press reported. Some of the plaintiffs, who are now adults, testified that they suffered long-term effects from their wrongful incarceration, including one who said, “I feel I was just sold out for no reason, like everybody just stood in line to be sold.”

Some of the childhood victims who were plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit when it was filed in 2009 have since reportedly died of suicide or drug overdoses. About 4,000 juvenile convictions were overturned by the state after the scheme was exposed.

Conner said the two former judges breached the public trust. “Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.”

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